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Dec 16, 2007 12:55 PM

What City Were You Surprised By That Had Great Food & Variety?

There are those times when you travel to a place due to work, a wedding, or a random city/town for any given reason where you have no expectations for having culinary delight. Which cities/towns have you visited that have surprised you with their food (and not just one restaurant). I'm not talking about the obvious, like SF, New Orleans, Chicago or Philadelphia, but other cities that when traveling to you don't think to look at a Zagat (because most of them don't even have one devoted to their city/town).

Where are these hidden gems in America? What about them made you celebrate with what they're doing with food.

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  1. Jacey, good question because it brings back memories of the food spots I've visited around the country over the last few years...In my case I was pleasantly surprised with Philly ( I saw your caveat in the post but had to mention it again); greater Boston for sure; Savannah, GA., and Charleston, SC; Atlanta had a few palate pleasers on my last visit; the Washington D.C. area now has greater variety, and though not a city, my vote goes to the entire State of Maine, where last summer's coastal road trip showed the culinary scene had remarkably improved from my last visit (and we're not just talking clam shacks)...

    5 Replies
    1. re: gutreactions

      DC, Philly and Boston are major cities, so it's no surprise they have great food. The South is definitely making its way in the culinary world...props.

      I'm also excited to hear about the small cities and towns you guys have visited and loved their food.

      1. re: Jacey

        Columbus, Ohio. I've been there a few times for work and I've had some good chow worthy food there. Jenny's Ice Cream, good Vietnamese, good Indian, and good German. I went expecting nothing and now I don't mind having to go to Columbus. Now Lancaster, PA is an absolute wasteland! I go there very often on business and I dread it food wise.

      2. re: gutreactions

        Having lived in Savannah GA for over 40 years, and now living in Tampa FL for the past six, I can say without equivocation that Tampa is light years ahead of Savannah GA as far as food goes.

        You can exhaust the opportunities in Savannah in about two weeks, with virtual zero on the unusual/ethnic end.

        As I am fond of saying, Savannah is a good town to be from.

        Tampa is a gold mine of fine dining and ethnic choices

        1. re: sarge

          Hi Sarge ~

          Any of those fine dining gold mines in the North Reddington Beach area?

        2. re: gutreactions

          Gut, besides Portland, Me., I hope you also enjoyed, Rockland-Camden and the Mount Desert Island dining. the Bath-Freeport area too.

        3. Another larger city, but Vancouver, Canada was FANTASTIC. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was blown away.

          I second Columbus, OH. I live in Kansas City now, and there is decent fair, but not enough Eastern European and Russian for my taste.

          I suppose my definition of "good" means diverse options. Milwaukee, WI is a good one, too! Lots of German places, local - had some great Korean and Thai in Milwaukee.

          4 Replies
          1. re: stellamystar

            Why would there be Eastern European and Russian when there have never been large populations of those folks, Stella?
            Here's a recent thread,Jacey-

            1. re: bbqboy

              BBQBoy - I'm not sure - I was just saying I miss the accessibility to those foods in Kansas City. Maybe I will open a Russian restaurant here!

              1. re: stellamystar

                Great idea! When I was growing up, we had Jennie's Croatian in KCK. That was it. I never saw Russian food til I made it to SF.

            2. re: stellamystar

              A lot of people are surprised that Ottawa, Canada, has good food - mostly because it's a smallish government town. But hey, we may not have Mexican food (let's just say the Latino population isn't flocking to the area), but Ottawa rocks when it comes to Middle-Eastern, Indian and Vietnamese food.

              Personally, I was surprised by Jersey City, where I lived for a while. Not only are there lots of small, mom & pop restaurants in a variety of cuisines (mostly Latin and Asian), but it's really vegetarian-friendly. In fact, one of my favourite places was a vegetarian café that made an awesome faux-meatball sub on real baguette.

            3. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has an astonishingly good food scene. When I first started traveling there 6-7 years ago, I had no idea I'd eat so well, so enjoyably (fantastically nice people, professional service, etc.) and with such great variety. It's still one of my top three food cities (right up there with New York and Paris).

                1. re: MSPD

                  I second Winnipeg, but Dorset, really?

                  1. re: churchka

                    Of course not. I was just seeing if anyone was paying attention. I figured anyone familiar with Dorset would get a chuckle, although an unincorporated town with more restaurant staff than pretty impressive and rare.

                    Plus, I thought if I publicized the town nationally it might increase my odds of becoming Mayor next summer! I run just about every year.

                2. Madison WI - I was really surprised with the whole overall food scene, but I guess since it's a college town, I shouldn't be. Lots of midwest food (sausage & cheese curds) but also decent greek, indian, etc. all at prices much better than I'm used to.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: jeanmarieok

                    Kansas City

                    They've got great BBQ, of course, but they've got an excellent fine dining scene as well.

                    And Houston--it's a big city, but I wasn't expecting the great quality of the restaurants. I ate better there than anywhere I've been in NYC, for example.

                    1. re: winedude

                      I second Kansas City - I visited there for the first time about a year ago and loved everything I had there, from the BBQ to more refined dining (1924 Main was very impressive and I can't wait to go back).

                      Interesting view on Houston, been there a few times but never really had a good experience except for BBQ and being able to get to Whataburger. So lowbrow was taken care of, finer dining was not. As someone in NYC, I'm curious where you went when you visited here that didn't impress you as much as places in Houston (but that's probably more appropriate for another thread!).

                    2. re: jeanmarieok

                      I completely agree with you jeanmarieok!

                      We were recently in Madison and had dinner at Sardine. It was great!

                      1. re: jeanmarieok

                        Next time you go, don't miss Vientiane Palace Lao with knock your socks off spice and flavor: